It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy.
The Three Garridebs is proof, in case we needed it after the last few weeks, that Conan Doyle late in his career was still capable of spinning a tight tale. In the fashion that is customary for most Holmes tales in the context of the canon, the story’s relative success proceeds from its deft handling of Conan Doyle’s recurrent themes: the foreign past, the mysterious career criminal, the unlikely hermit. Even Birmingham – which we remember as the site of a hoax in The Stockbroker’s Clerk – serves a similar capacity here. Yet these elements are yoked together convincingly, and Holmes enjoys a sufficiently magnetic spell, which makes the satisfying whole much more than the sum of its potentially rather tired parts.
One of the keys to this renewed vigour is the unusual premise: Holmes is approached by a Mr Garrideb, who has in turn been approached by a Mr Garrideb, on the matter of the will of … yet another. The latter two Garridebs are Americans – and we get a good deal of evocative Americana (Conan Doyle seems particularly fond of Chicago, which of course was a favourite haunt of both Altamont and the Red Circle) – and the will of the one has tasked the other with finding two more Garridebs, with whom to share a $15 million fortune. The name, however, is uniquely rare, and the search has therefore come to London – and to Holmes’s client.
This ruse is quickly seen through by the detective (long inured to the lure of unlikely fortune): “I was wondering, Watson,” he says in the mischievous form he spents much of this tale, “what on earth could be the object of this man in telling us such a rigmarole of lies.” Naturally Holmes discovers the object – and naturally it involves an exotic past and a lack of honour amongst thieves. What is remarkable about the solution is that it hangs together so well. One must buy the idea that Holmes’s client is a total hermit, but agoraphobes are not uncommon. Proceeding from that fact, all the others slot into place rather nicely.
Holmes, too, feels more like his old self than he often does in the Casebook. In 1902, we are told, he refused a knighthood for services rendered – alas, we never learn what those services were. What we do learn about him, however – or perhaps what Watson learns – is one of the warmest moments in the canon. When a bullet grazes Watson’s leg, Holmes jumps to his side: “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!” Watson’s thoughts are worth quoting in full:
“It was worth a wound – it was worth many wounds – to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment,a nd the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that revelation.”
All the reader’s years of following the pair, too, may well be rewarded in this moment. And Holmes’s next expostulation? “You are right. It is quite superficial.” The Three Garridebs is indeed lovely stuff for the faithful.